I just found this wonderful interview with Maggie from 2004, before her rise to fame in the US. She talks about her role in Naked Weapon, Gen Y Cops and the unforgettable Model From Hell (just kidding) – it’s a pretty lengthy read but it’s definitely an insightful one.
Frédéric Ambroisine: Is Maggie Q your real name ?
Maggie Q: That’s not my real name actually. My surname is Quigley which is Irish, because my father is Irish and my mother is Vietnamese. When I first landed in Hong Kong, people couldn’t pronounce it correctly, so they shortened it to Q, and after that everybody followed suit and that’s how it happened.
FA: Why did you come to Hong Kong to start your career?
MQ: Hmm. I didn’t have to come to Hong Kong to start my career, funnily enough. I was going to university in Hawaii. Simply I couldn’t really make any money. I was going to school. I was working retail. I was an athlete as well at school. It was very difficult to make enough money to be able to fund my schooling, to be able to pay the rent. So I left for two months because I had a few friends who were models in Hawaii. Very beautiful girls. And they used to come to Asia all the time to work. They said to me: “Why don’t you try it?”. And I was like: “But I’m not a model! I don’t know what to do!”. And they said: “Maggie, you don’t have any option. You don’t have money. Why don’t you just try it?” . So I ended up coming here (in Hong Kong) just to try for two months. And it’s been five years now. I spent a very little time modeling actually, it was about a year. And I didn’t like modeling to be honest. It was something that led me to something that I love. And I’m very thankful to it for that. But I honestly believed that It was a stepping stone. Modeling got me into the industry, but very soon after, I started working for television.
FA: When did you become an actress?
MQ: In 1998. I did my first TV series in Beijing, and I was there for four months filming. Then, when I got back from that, I got my first movie offer, with a company called Media Asia, which is one of the biggest film company in Hong Kong, and I started doing action films. I was signed by Jackie Chan’s company upon signing for “Gen Y Cops”. Because I was sporting, they thought it would a good idea for me to do action. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of action ! But I kind of want to stay out of it and do different things.
FA: Did you learn Chinese when you were young ?
MQ: Oh, of course not, I didn’t know a word. It was kind of, for survival reasons, I had to pick it up.
FA: Before “Gen Y Cops”, you played in “Model From Hell”. How was this first acting experience in a feature film?
MQ: Ha ha ha. That was horrible! There’s an actor in Hong Kong called Simon Yam, who’s actually my friend’s husband. And he was supposed to do this film. And it was a very low budget, nothing sort of thing. And for some reasons, they wanted me to do it. I wasn’t really sure, and he said: “Oh, if you do it, I’ll do it. It’s a lot of fun. It’ll be a few weeks. It’s no big deal”. And it was more money than I ever made in modeling. So I thought: “I guess I’ll just try it”. I didn’t want to try it because I wanted to get into movies. It was just something, so I did it. It was an odd experience. I wouldn’t say it was a great experience, but It was great working with Simon. He’s a very generous and nice guy. I had a good time. I didn’t really fall in love with films or acting until 2000. I did a movie in 2000 in New York (“Manhattan Midnight”) that really made me feel that, this is what I was meant to do, instead of something that I was just doing.
FA: So “Model from Hell” was your first Cantonese movie, right?
MQ: Yeah, so that was very difficult because at that time, I didn’t know anything. And they ended up dubbing me. But I still had to speak on the set, because otherwise none of the other actors would understand me. And it was really frustrating. It’s always hard to be working in a place that you’re not from. Because you’re sort in the business but not really, you know. It’s confusing at times. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I tried the best I could. The script was written in Cantonese, and I had a translator who translated it into English. And I had to translate it back phonetically into Chinese because obviously, I can’t read Chinese characters. It was so difficult, I can’t even tell you! It remains difficult until today but I’m lucky we do have movie companies in Hong Kong who are doing more international movies.
FA: “Gen Y-Cops”, your second movie was completely different?
MG: Yeah, That’s right. It was a big budget movie, very different from the first one. It was a real movie! [Laughs.]
FA: Did you meet Jackie Chan before playing in the movie ?
MQ: Actually they met me before I started acting. I’ve worked for some famous singers and actors in Hong Kong doing campains and things like that. And I guess because they were really famous, since I was standing next to them, people were like “Oh, who is that girl?”. They didn’t really know who I was, but people started knowing my name, and that’s when they got interested and said: “Oh, maybe this girl is something, maybe you should sign her?”. And actually, Jackie and my manager Willie Chan asked me to sign with them. And initially I said no. It was the opposite of maybe a normal person would have react.ed Somebody else would have been very exited: “Oh, he want me to sign with him. Of course I’ll work with him”, but I didn’t have that confidence. I needed to be at a certain level to work with them, and I knew I wasn’t. yet I mean, I had no experience! So I though:t “I don’t want to disappoint him, If I disappoint him that’s it for me!” (laughs). 6 to 8 months later, Media Asia said: “Hey look, we really want you to do this movie, It’s gonna be an American Hong Kong co-production, and we think you’re perfect for it”. So I told them: “If people start offering me things, I’d love to sign with you but until that time, there’s really no reason for me to sign with a management company because nobody wants me”. And they were like: “Ok, I guess so”. So when that movie came out, we decided to sign.
FA: How long was the shooting of “Gen-Y Cops” ?
MQ: It was up to 5 months, because there was a lot of action, a lot of CG. We had a robot in the film, which technically was very difficult. But it was such a great experience, because we had American actors on the set. We had young Hong Kong actors, myself who was neither, from here, nor there. And it was just a quite eclectic mix of young people. And we had fun with it. It wasn’t a very serious movie but we just wanted to do something young and something fun, and something with that we can catch young people’s eyes. And that’s what we did.
FA: How was your working relationship with the film crew?
MQ: When I started that film, it was funny because some of the producers said: “Oh God, here comes this model on the set! Oh no, what will we gonna do? She’s not gonna be able to act etc.” And when we started working, I really tried my best, and It was from that film that I was offered other films. No matter what I do, whether I’m good or bad at it, because I’m doing it , there’s a certain little dedication, which is full. So I worked hard and I guess it paid off. Because after that, it really started rolling for me.
FA: How did you get involved in “Naked Weapon”?
MQ: Hmm, it was actually Wong Jing who first came to me with the script. I didn’t like the script when I got it. I hated it, I literally felt like, “It’s out the window.” And then what happened was, I didn’t want to work on a project that included the kind of content that it had at that time. So Wong Jing went to Media Asia and said “Look, we want to do this movie; you guys should produce it.” Media Asia agreed to do it. And because I signed with them as a company, it was a very smart move on Wong Jing’s part (laughs). I had a certain amount of films I had to complete for my contract, and I told Media Asia what I thought of the script: “Look, I don’t like it, and I know I have to do films for you but I don’t like the script, and unless it’s gonna change, I’m not doing it.” They said, “Okay, let’s talk.” I have to tell you, it wasn’t really fighting, but there was a lot of discussion before I would actually take the film. I felt that the premise of the film was really good, but it went off on certain tangents that were unnecessary. So we went through a lot of negotiation and months of changing the script, rewriting and redoing the concept, and when it was done I finally agreed to take the script and we ending up doing it. In the end, I’m really happy I did it because I have a lot of respect for the director. We got on really well, and he pushed me really far. He pushed me further than a lot of people have done. It was difficult, but at the end of the day you’re very pleased that it happened.
FA: What was it like working with Ching Siu-tung?
MQ: If you know anything about Hong Kong films, you know he has a reputation as the toughest action director in Asia. It was very tough on the set. He was always very tough on me. It was difficult for me to ever back down because I knew there were things that were not possible for me to do. But it’s almost as if he believed in me more than I believed in myself. And because he did, I was able to do things that I never though I would accomplish in an action film. And I’m happy about that. I’m so grateful to him.
FA: What about the things in the script that you didn’t like and that you wanted changed?
MQ: We changed a lot of things that I didn’t like. There was only one thing that they kept that I did not like. You can’t win them all, I have to say. I would say I got 80% of what I wanted removed from the script, and I had to compromise on the other 20%. Which I understand. I’m not completely happy with the film. There are things I wish they would have re-edited. But as far as the action goes, and as far as the drama goes… it’s always difficult to put drama into an action film. It’s a very fine line. Sometimes it can be very tacky; sometimes it can be very good. It really depends on being able to balance it correctly. I think Ching Siu-tung did a good job; he’s not used to directing drama and action together, so it was okay!
FA: Did you practice martial arts before you made this movie?
MQ: The funny thing about Hong Kong movies is that there are two things we don’t have: time and money (laughs). So when a production is going to go, they’re gonna go right away, they don’t want to waste any more money. Which is smart, but it’s difficult for us actors sometimes. Because, I mean, you need time; there is a process. Especially with action: you’re gonna need time to go over it with the choreographers, and I never got that time. I mean, when I took the film we started production a week later, and that same week I was finishing up another project. And boom, I just went right into working with the toughest action director in Asia and doing some of the toughest sequences I’ve ever done in my life! It was very difficult, I have to tell you. On my down time, when I was not onscreen, I was working it out, trying to get it down, going through it with the action choreographer and my stunt women, and all those kinds of things. It was completely exhausting; I never had a moment to rest because I was always worried about my action on screen. Ching Siu-tung never wanted doubles to jump in front of me because I was the star of the film. He’d say, “I want to show your face. I want to show people that this is you, this is what you’re doing, and this is what we’ve turned you into. That’s gonna make me proud. I don’t want doubles, I want Maggie.” And I was like, “Jesus!” (She laughs and makes the sign of the cross). It was an honor for me that he thought I was so capable, but for me it was terrifying. I really wish I had time to do more training. If I did, it would probably have been even better. But I think, considering the limited amount of time and money we had, and the lack of experience and all these things, it came out really well.
FA: Did you discover that you had any special skills during your training for “Naked Weapon”?
MQ: I did actually. To be honest, before I started training in this way, I was the most inflexible person you could ever meet in your life. I was an athlete, so I was strong. I was a runner and a swimmer, and did things like that. Normally when you’re strong, you’re not usually flexible. You’re either one or the other. If you’re both, you’re pretty special! (laughs) I wasn’t. It is hard to pinpoint what you are good at. Ching Siu-tung told me that normally, smaller movements make women look a lot better onscreen. But we found out when I was filming that bigger movements and very dramatic moves for some reason made me look better as a woman. So he started training me with the men instead of with the women. He wanted me to get the male techniques down instead of the female techniques because it was visually better for me. That was very strange because men are tougher (laughs). So it was quite a ride. There was not a night I went home when I wasn’t bruised from head to toe, or bleeding, or had lumps somewhere. It was like five months of boot camp!
FA: Did you watch any previous Ching Siu-tung movies before or during the shooting?
MQ: Ching Siu-tung actually started out as an actor. He was an action actor for the Shaw Brothers back in the day. He did two movies which were very old and very funny. My friend, who is one of the Shaw’s sons, dug them out of the archives for me. I actually brought them to the set and played them for everybody, and he was so mad at me because he’s very shy about being known as an actor! He didn’t want anybody to know. He’s amazing; he is able to tell stories with his action. I love that. If you look at Hong Kong movies from 20-30 years ago, that’s what we were doing at that time: we were telling stories with movement. It was a very physical kind of storytelling. Hollywood is just now starting to catch on to that. And now everybody says “Oh it’s so special, look at “The Matrix”, look at this and that.” But in Hong Kong we were saying, “That’s not special. We’ve been doing that forever!” (laughs) I find it very interesting that people who have been around for so long, like Ching-Siu-tung, are still able to reinvent themselves and tell new stories, modern stories. The kind of movies we make now are what they were making back then. It’s just a transition in their lives. It makes me really proud to be able to work with them because I’m working with a piece of history.
FA: What was this movie with Ching Siu-tung that you found?
MQ: It’s called “Monkey Kung-Fu”! (laughs) Oh, if you could get a hold of this movie! He actually looked a bit like Jackie when he was young. He’s a small guy and he moves very well. It was unbelievable. It was so nice to see that he’s been in front of the camera as well, so he knows how I feel. Even though he’s tough he knows how to empathize with actors. So I finally learned where that empathy came from.
FA: Ching Siu-tung was also in the Shaw Brothers movie “Come Drink With Me” with Cheng Pei-pei, who plays your mother in “Naked Weapon”…
MQ: Yeah! But she didn’t get to do any action in “Naked Weapon”, which is really unfortunate, because she’s the best! She was so mad at Ching Siu-tung on the set. She said, “Next time we work together, I’d better be fighting!” And he said “Okay, I promise, I promise!” (laughs). She was great in “Naked Weapon”; I really liked her.
FA: Have you seen any of Cheng Pei-pei’s movies?
MQ: Absolutely. I didn’t know who she was before “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” because I was not a Hong Kong film buff. When I saw “Crouching Tiger” I asked, “Who is this woman?!” They told me she is from Hong Kong and she has daughters who are martial artists and I said, “Oh my goodness!!” I asked a friend of mine who is a producer to dig up her old stuff. He edited a bunch of stuff together for me to see. This woman blows my mind! The way she moves! She’s not a small woman: she’s tall and she’s substantial. It’s amazing, amazing. She’s great!
FA: Most of the dialogue in “Naked Weapon” are in English. I guess this is for the international market? Who made this decision?
MQ: It was Media Asia. This thing [exploitation] was sort of catching on in the west, and they wanted to use new generation actors. You know, British-born Chinese, American-born Chinese, Canadian-born Chinese. All those people who are coming back to Hong Kong and are bilingual. They wanted to make a film that showed the international audience that we have talent here, and that we can also speak English, do action, and that we’re not confined to one genre. There is an eclectic mix of people that live in Hong Kong, and we’re able to make these sort of movies on a Western level without any budget. I mean, if you look at what we did with “Naked Weapon” with the budget we had… people in the West would die if they knew how much we spent on that movie! It looks like a bigger movie because we made it look like a bigger movie. But it’s not a big movie (laughs). It’s amazing. I’m really proud of what we do in Hong Kong because we don’t have much, but we still get it done. And when you’ve worked in an industry like that, you can work anywhere.
FA: What about the eroticism in the movie? Did you have any problems with the “hot” scenes?
MQ: I didn’t have any problems with the love scenes or things like that because falling in love and being with people in that way is a natural part of life. So that wasn’t a very big problem, except logistically with what you can and cannot show. I did have a problem with some of the violation scenes. I knew what they were trying to do with it. I knew they were trying to prove what these girls had been through. But I thought the execution was not right. It really could have been edited out. Because if you don’t it execute it right, it doesn’t mean anything to the audience. It’s just gratuitous violence and sex. And that’s what I felt about it. I’ve never had too much of a problem with love scenes because I think love is a big big part of life, and it comes up in every single movie all the time. That wasn’t a big problem. The other stuff was very difficult for me.
FA: What was your reaction when you saw “Naked Weapon” on the big screen?
MQ: I hated seeing the entire movie onscreen! I went to the premiere and… I find myself sometimes looking away whenever I see myself onscreen. Because it’s very odd. And in addition to it being odd, you’re always your worse critic. In whatever business you do, you’re always the one that is hardest on yourself. You think, “maybe I should have done that, or maybe that wasn’t right…” But, when I saw it I thought, “You know, honestly, being in the movie and knowing the conditions we worked under, we really belted it out, didn’t we!” I was really surprised how it turned out because I knew how difficult it was to make. And when you watch it on screen, it doesn’t seem that way. I think that’s the magic of movie making: that we are fooling you guys (laughs). I think we were able to do that, and I was really happy. To be honest, I was most pleased with the action. The action is, to me, the highlight of the film and the thing I’m most proud of.
FA: Do you have something to say to readers about to discover “Naked Weapon” and Maggie Q?
MQ: Oh, my Goodness!!! (laughs) Oh God, I hate being put on the spot! Simply, I hope they will enjoy it. I really do. It was a tough film to make. It’s not the best, but look out for me! I’ll be coming out with bigger and better stuff soon!
Source: Action Queens